S2E19 (Elimination) – Octopus, Veal, Mushrooms

Before I start this post, I first want to apologize for the long delay between posts. I have been very busy the last couple weeks as I have been working at Churchill Downs during the recent Kentucky Derby. It was a lot of work but also a lot of fun (as you can see here: The 140th Running of the Kentucky Oaks and the Kentucky Derby). I am glad to have some free time back to do some cooking and blogging though.

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As the winner of the mystery box challenge, Adrien was able to choose between three of Joe’s favorite ingredients: Octopus, Veal and Mushrooms. He chose octopus for himself. Then, Christian was able to select his and Jennifer’s ingredient. Christian selected veal for himself and gave Jennifer mushrooms to work with.

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Each contestant had positives and negatives to their final dishes, but the judges decided to send Adrien (Pan Seared Octopus) and Jennifer (Mushroom and Egg Ravioli) to the Final Challenge. This eliminated Christian (Veal) from the competition.

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When I started this blog, I wrote a rule to direct me in what ingredient to cook with in challenges such as this. It read:

“For challenges in which the competitors are given different ingredients to work with, I will use the ingredient that the most chefs are given to cook with. If every contestant is given a different ingredient, I will use the one the winner picks for him/herself, or if the winner does not cook in the challenge, the ingredient that is given to that episode’s ‘target’.”

However, for this challenge, if I were to follow this rule, I would have to cook with octopus. While I would love to tackle the challenge, I know that I am just not going to be able to find octopus to work with. So to try and follow the rule at least a little bit, I will cook with the ingredient given to the challenge’s “target.” That ended up being Jennifer, who was stuck with mushrooms.

I knew I wanted to try something a little different and crepes have been on my list of “dishes to attempt.” I was lucky enough to find this recipe that met both criteria: Mushroom Crepes with Poblano Chile Sauce. Since most of this was new to me, I mostly stuck to the recipe with the one exception being my addition of chicken. This was going to be my dinner, after all, and I wanted protein! However, this dish would be just a delicious as the original vegetarian option. I also halved the recipe to make only 8 crepes, which brought down the expected cook and prep time of 4 hours to just under 3 hours.

The first thing I did was make the crepe batter. I blended 1 cup of whole milk, 1.5 eggs (I guesstimated this – I know its a weird amount but that’s what happens when you only do half of a recipe), 1 tablespoon of melted butter (that had been cooled), and 1/2 of a teaspoon of fine sea salt in a blender for 5 seconds. I then added 1 cup of flour, 1/2 cup at a time, blending the batter until it was smooth after each addition. I let this rest for 1 hour and then re-blended for 5 seconds just before using.

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While the batter was resting, I started to prep some of the other components. First, I charred 3 poblano chiles in the broiler until they were blackened on all sides. I then enclosed them in paper bag for 10 minutes. Finally, I peeled, seeded, and thinly sliced the chiles. For this part of the recipe, I used this tutorial as a guide: How to Roast and Peel Poblano Peppers.

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Next, I prepped the other ingredients: diced white onions, minced garlic, minced cilantro, sweet corn sliced off the cob, and shredded chicken (I cheated and just got the pre-cooked rotisserie chicken from the grocery store). All of these were fairly simple but I decided to use this post as an excuse to try this: The Magic Corn Trick. While it worked really well for cooking the corn, the cob didn’t exactly slide out without any silk. Maybe I needed to cook it longer or maybe I needed to trim it more. Either way, there was something there that didn’t quite work but I’ll definitely try it again sometime.

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After all the prep work was done, I moved on to the crepe making. I heated a medium nonstick skillet over medium heat. I brushed the bottom of the pan with melted butter. Then, I poured 3 tablespoons of batter into the skillet and swirled until the bottom of the skillet was coated evenly. I let this cook until the bottom of crepe was golden. (The recipe said that this should take about 30 seconds but it took much longer than that). Then, I loosened the edges gently with a spatula and turned the crepe over. I cooked this until the bottom was brown in spots, and turned the crepe out onto a paper towel.

The first crepe I made was a disaster. It wasn’t really cooking all that well and I turned it too early so it looked completely screwed up (as seen below).

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But I turned the heat up and got the hang of the cooking process on the second one and it only got better from there. I repeated the cooking process for each, making about 8 crepes (plus the one wonky crepe) and stacked them between paper towels.

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Next, I moved on to the poblano cream sauce. I melted butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. I then added 2-3 tablespoons of diced white onion and 1 clove of minced garlic, and sautéed for about 2 minutes. Next, I stirred in 1 and 1/2 tablespoons of flour and sautéed for 1 minute longer. I then whisked in 1 cup of warm whole milk and brought the whole mixture to a boil (while whisking constantly). I reduced the heat to medium-low and let the sauce simmer until it thickened, about 5 minutes.

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Then, I poured the sauce into a blender with 1/4 cup of heavy whipping cream, half of the roasted poblano chiles, and salt and pepper to taste, and blended the sauce until it was smooth.

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After completing the sauce, I moved on to the filling. I heated a few tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. I then added 1 cup of diced white onions, 8 ounces of sliced shitake mushrooms, 3-4 cloves of minced garlic, and half of the reserved poblano chiles (chopped). I sautéed this until the mushrooms were brown and the mushroom liquid had evaporated, about 10 minutes. Then, I added the shredded chicken, 1 tablespoon of minced fresh cilantro and salt and pepper to taste. I let that mixture cook together until the chicken was warmed through.

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With most of the components finished, I then started to fill the crepes. I spooned some of the filling in the middle of the crepe, wrapped it and placed it in a baking dish. I drizzled about half of the poblano cream sauce over the top of the crepes, and then sprinkled 1/2 of a cup of grated manchego cheese over top. I put this dish in a 350-degree oven until the cheese melted, about 12 minutes.

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While the stuffed crepes were in the oven, I worked on the final component: the garnish. In a large skillet, I sautéed some sweet corn with the rest of the poblanos (chopped) in some olive oil with salt and pepper until they were heated through. I also prepped some cilantro and fresh lime as a garnish.

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When the crepes came out of the oven, I spooned some additional poblano cream sauce onto the serving dish. Then, I placed 2 stuffed crepes over the sauce and garnished the dish with fresh cilantro, the corn-poblano mixture and a squirt of fresh lime over the top.

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Overall, this dish was delightful. It was very unique and would have definitely caught the attention of the judges. While the crepes took a great deal of time (and probably should have been a bit thinner), the rest of the components were fairly simple. In the future, I might use pre-made crepes or flour tortillas instead in order to cut out a lot of the prep work. The flavor profile also didn’t feature mushrooms as prominently as the challenge called for, but I’m sure there’s a way to tweak this dish to do so. Regardless, this a delicious dish that should definitely be tried.

I am certainly happy to be back to blogging. Here’s to hoping there won’t be too many delays like this in the future.

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S2E19 (Mystery Box) – Chicken

For the final mystery box challenge of the season, the contestants were asked to demonstrate how far they had come. They had to create a dish featuring chicken with an open pantry, just like one of the first challenges of the season. Jennifer struggled, turning in a dish with overcooked and undercooked components (Bacon Wrapped Chicken with Apples and Jalapeño). Christian (Bacon Wrapped Chicken with French Onion Sauce) and Adrien (Braised Chicken Thigh with Acorn Squash, Asparagus and Rice) created better dishes, but the judges only offered high praise for Adrien, who won the challenge.

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For this challenge, I decided to do an “empty the fridge” type of dish. While that’s not really what I usually do on this blog, I thought that I had ingredients on hand to do a great stuffed chicken breast with ratatouille and truffle-butter potatoes. For the chicken breast, I made the stuffing out of feta, chopped bacon, minced garlic, chopped yellow onions, thyme, oregano, and crushed red pepper. After mixing all of this together, I pounded out the chicken breast, spread the stuffing evenly over the top of the chicken and then rolled it all up so that the chicken totally enveloped the stuffing. I seasoned the chicken with salt, pepper and paprika, and poured in enough chicken stock to cover the bottom of the baking dish. I baked this in a 375 degree oven for 45 minutes, spooning the broth over the top of the chicken every 15 minutes.

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While the chicken was cooking, I started making the sides. While I did not have the ingredients to make a traditional ratatouille, I certainly had enough to create my own version. I simply sautéed some chopped zucchini, chopped red onion, diced tomatoes, minced garlic, and chopped red bell pepper in some olive oil and butter. I let the vegetables cook together for a little bit. Then, I added a couple tablespoons of arrabiata sauce and seasoned the whole mixture with salt, pepper, oregano, basil, cumin, and cayenne pepper. I let this all cook together on low until the vegetables were tender and ready to serve.

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For the potatoes, I simply fried the slices in some butter for a couple minutes per side, sprinkled them with truffle salt and then popped them in the oven on a baking sheet until they were fork tender.

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The final component of the dish was the red wine reduction. When the chicken was finished, I took the broth from the bottom of the baking dish and poured it into a sauce pan. To this, I added an equal amount of red wine (in this case, a pinot noir that I had on hand), a tablespoon of honey, and the juice of 1/2 a lime. I let this simmer until it was reduced by half.

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I plated the chicken breast on a bed of the truffle potatoes and ratatouille with the red wine reduction spooned over top. Overall, the dish came together pretty well. The ratatouille and potatoes were delicious. I easily could have eaten just those and been perfectly content. The chicken, on the other hand, was just ok. The feta did not keep the chicken moist like other cheeses I have used in the past to make this dish. And the crushed red pepper was too strong, giving the stuffing, as a whole, a bit of an odd flavor. The red wine sauce was very strong. I let it reduce too far and I used a fairly cheap wine, so the overall flavor was much too sharp. While there are definitely some tweaks that need to be made to improve this dish, I do think that it could be refined into quite a delicious meal.

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S2E18 (Team) – International Judges

For the last team challenge of the season, the top 4 were divided in two teams and cooked a dish for 3 judges from international versions of MasterChef: Kunal Kapoor (India), Sébastien Demorand (France) and Michal Ansky (Israel). They had 90 minutes to create a dish from the best produce, meat and seafood that America has to offer.

Suzy and Christian decided to do a dish that they called an upscale Thanksgiving dish with duck, sweet potato and raspberry coulis.

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Adrien and Jennifer decided to do a dish that showcased the best items from both coasts. It consisted of roasted corn, avocado and maine lobster with spot prawns, blood orange and red pepper coulis.

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Both teams had several issues with their dishes but the Blue Team worked together better, giving them the win. This sent Suzy and Christian into the pressure test.

I decided to do something fairly straightforward with some fresh, in-season ingredients, so I designed a dish with a boneless butterfly pork loin chop, roasted parsnips, red and golden beets, and a white wine-honey dijon cream sauce.

The first thing I did was prep the beets and parsnips. I thinly sliced them and laid them out on a baking sheet. Then, I drizzled them with olive oil and sprinkled salt and pepper over the top. I put them in a 400 degree oven for 20 minutes. However, I think I still haven’t quite figured out my new oven, because when I checked them at 15 minutes, the red beets were starting to burn. I was able to pull them out before too much damage was done, but definitely watch them carefully if you do them yourself.

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Next, I put together the sauce. I started by melting 2 tablespoons of butter with some minced garlic, parsley, salt and pepper. Then, I added 1-2 tablespoons of flour and let the mixture cook together for about a minute. I then added in about 3/4 of a cup of white wine, 1/4 cup of milk, 1/4 cup of honey dijon, and the juice of 1/2 of a lemon. I let this simmer for several minutes, while I went to work on the pork chops.

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For the pork, I kept it very simple. I lightly coated each chop in flour, paprika, salt and pepper and put them in a hot pan with olive oil and butter. I cooked them for 3-5 minutes per side until they were cooked all the way through. I served the pork on a bed of roasted beets and parsnips with a side of the dijon-wine cream sauce.

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Overall, the dish was great. The pork and beets were delicious and (almost) perfectly cooked. The flavors were simple and straightforward but fresh and tasty. The sauce got a little too thick for my liking and it definitely had a unique flavor. I’m, honestly, still not sure how I feel about the sauce. It tasted good with the pork, but there were some very strong flavors that didn’t pair quite as perfectly as I would have hoped. But it was a good, simple dish that I will take another stab at soon.

 

S2E17 (Mystery Box) – Ground Meat

This week’s mystery box gave the contestants three types of ground meat to build a dish around: ground veal, ground pork, and ground beef. The mystery box also included: celery, corn, carrots, peas, mushrooms, lemon, tomato, bell peppers, garlic, eggs, milk, potatoes, red onion, worcestershire sauce, rice, mango, tomato paste, several fresh herbs, 3-4 different types of cheeses (among others).

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Jennifer (Meatloaf), Adrien (Trio of Meatballs) and Ben (Shepherd’s Pie) were named the top three with Ben winning the chance to pick the focus of the next elimination challenge.

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When I saw the ingredients available in this mystery box, I thought that I could put together one of my favorite dishes: stuffed peppers. I have never actually made these myself, mostly because my mom’s version is pretty well perfect and I didn’t want to create a poor impression. So I decided to find a recipe online that would be different enough to avoid the comparison. I settled on this as my guide: Stuffed Peppers with Ground Beef and Rice.

I essentially stuck to the recipe, except for few minor changes and additions, mostly dealing with the tomato sauce. I substituted fresh vine-ripened tomatoes (which I diced) and tomato paste for the canned diced tomatoes and tomato sauce that the recipe called for. I also added 2 cloves of minced garlic and 1/2 of a banana pepper (minced) to the bell pepper, onion, and celery mixture. This made the sauce very chunky but it definitely added a lot of nice flavor.

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Everything else from the recipe was the same (including the sprinkling of shredded cheddar cheese towards the end of the cook time). Overall, the peppers turned out great but they were definitely not as good as my mom’s. (I’m going to have to ask her for her secret). I really wanted more tomato sauce throughout the beef mixture. When I make this in the future, I might put some sauce in the bottom of the pepper before adding the beef and rice mixture or maybe layer the sauce throughout. Either way, I will want more tomato flavor!

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To serve as a side, I went for this recipe: Delicious Corn Dish Recipe. I saw this on buzzfeed a while ago and I have been waiting to work it into meal until now. I followed the recipe completely with just a couple exceptions. I had to substitute banana pepper for jalapeño because my grocery store was out. (This would be a good substitution for people that don’t like spicy foods though). I also added some minced garlic to the corn when sautéing it in olive oil (because I have to add garlic to everything). Finally, I used equal parts of lemon and lime juice instead of just lime.

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I served the stuffed pepper on a bed of the manchego-lime corn, making a very colorful plate. Overall, the corn and the stuffed pepper worked well together. It was a pretty solid dish but nothing super special. The corn was awesome though. I will definitely do that again. The stuffed pepper was just ok. It really needed some more flavor but maybe I’m just spoiled by my mom’s version.

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BONUS RECIPE: The same night I did the stuffed peppers and corn, I also decided to try my hand at some duck fat fries. I had some extra duck fat lying around from this blog post and I was really craving potatoes, so this was the perfect solution.  I found this tutorial: How to: Duck Fat Fries, and followed it completely (including the soaking and two-step frying processes).

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When they came out of the duck fat the second time, I seasoned them with truffle salt, paprika and grated parmesan cheese. And they were DELICIOUS!!! Seriously, far and away the best thing I that last night, and I can’t wait to make some more soon.

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S2E16 (Pressure) – Salmon

S2E16 (Team Challenge) Note: At the beginning of the episode, the top six chefs were split into two teams and asked to run dinner service at the Michelin-Star restaurant, Patina. They were tasked with executing four of the restaurant’s signature dishes (shown below) with basic instruction from the restaurant’s chefs. The Red Team of Christian, Ben, and Suzy won based on feedback from the guests (all of whom were Patina regulars) and the restaurant’s chef and owner. This sent the Blue Team’s Tracy, Adrien, and Jennifer into the pressure test.

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The episode showed and talked about so few components of each dish that it was difficult to determine the techniques and ingredients used in each one. Additionally, based on my watching of the episode, it appeared that many (if not all) of the sauces, marinades, and other prep work were already done for the chefs. While I hate passing up on a challenge, I felt that there was simply no way for me to recreate even one of the dishes with the limited instructions and my lack of access to the ingredients that I thought would be necessary. Therefore, I had to skip this challenge and move on to the pressure test from this episode. 


For the pressure test, Tracy, Jennifer and Adrien had to scale and filet a whole salmon into at least 10 portions and cook one of those portions perfectly for the judges in just 45 minutes. Before the task, Gordon Ramsay gave a helpful tutorial to the chefs demonstrating the proper way to accomplish this. I thought it was really helpful so I posted the clip below. I really wish this show had more of this and less of the interpersonal drama. But I guess that’s not what reality shows are for…

All of the contestants really struggled with this challenge, but Tracy had the most issues with both the prep and the cooking, resulting in her elimination. However, I definitely think she got the better end of the deal as the show said that they would pay for 1 year of classes at Le Cordon Bleu for her and a job with one of them when she graduated.

Since I obviously was not going to get my hands on a whole salmon, I decided to simply make a perfect pan-seared fillet of salmon with a garlic-dill butter sauce and two sides: cheddar-gruyere scalloped potatoes and roasted asparagus.

The first thing I did was work on the scalloped potatoes. I used this recipe as my guide: Scalloped Potatoes – Southern Food. This recipe was very simple and straightforward so I, of course, had to jazz it up a bit. I made several key changes and additions,  which definitely added a lot of flavor.

In a small saucepan, I melted 3 tablespoons of butter with 2-3 cloves of garlic (minced). After allowing that to cook together for a bit, I blended in 3 tablespoons of flour and cooked that mixture together for 1-2 minutes.

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I then added 1 1/2 cups of skim milk, 1 teaspoon of salt and a couple dashes each of thyme, nutmeg and black pepper. I whisked this mixture constantly until it was smooth and bubbling. Then, I removed the pan from the heat and stirred in 2/3 of a cup of shredded sharp cheddar cheese and 1/3 of a cup of shredded gruyere.

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With the cheese sauce complete, I layered 2 cups of thinly sliced potatoes in the bottom of a a casserole dish and poured half of the cheese sauce over the potatoes. I repeated this with 2 more cups of potatoes and the rest of the cheese sauce. Then, I sprinkled the top with shredded cheddar cheese, grated parmesan and paprika.

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I baked this at 350 degrees for a little less than hour (until it was cooked through and brown and crispy on the top). For plating purposes, I used a large round cup to get a perfect circle of scalloped potatoes to display with the salmon and asparagus.

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While the potatoes were in the oven, I prepped a bunch of asparagus and tossed it in some olive oil, minced garlic, diced yellow onion, salt and pepper. I baked this in the oven (at 350 degrees) until the asparagus were tender, about 10-15 minutes depending on the thickness.

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Finally, it was time for the salmon. I have never pan-seared salmon before so I completely followed this recipe and it was great: Seared Salmon Fillet Recipe. While the salmon was cooking, I made a quick and simple sauce by melting a couple tablespoons of butter with 1-2 cloves of garlic (minced) and some fresh dill.

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When everything was finished, I plated the salmon then squeezed some fresh lemon over the top and spooned the garlic-dill butter sauce over the top. Finally, I put the scalloped potatoes and asparagus on the plate and served. Overall, this dish was delicious. I could not stop eating those potatoes and the salmon was very flavorful. I still have no idea how I would have done at breaking down the salmon but I’m now confident that I can make a great salmon dish.

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S2E15 (Elimination) – Grilled Cheese and Tomato Soup

As an advantage from her win in the previous challenge, Jennifer was able to pick the focus for the elimination challenge. She was able to pick from the three judges’ favorite childhood dishes of Joe’s Pizza, Graham’s Mac ‘n’ Cheese and Gordon’s Tomato Soup with Grilled Cheese. She picked Gordon’s dish and the contestants had 45 minutes to turn it into a gourmet version.

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Suzy (Grilled Cheese with Red Pepper and Tomato Soup) and Tracy (Tomato Soup with Pancetta and Fontina Grilled Cheese) had the best dishes and earned the job of team captains for the next challenge.

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Ben (Roasted Tomato Soup and Grilled Cheese with Bacon and Onion), Christine (Heirloom Tomato Soup with Goat and Provolone Grilled Cheese), and Derrick (Gorgonzola Tomato Soup with Tomato and Bacon Grilled Cheese) were in the bottom three, with Christine and Derrick being sent home.

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When I saw this challenge, I knew that I wanted to use this as an excuse to try my hand at some homemade bread to use for the grilled cheese sandwiches. I have been trying to push myself to make items that I would usually just buy at the store. I did some research and found this delightful bread recipe: Potato-Rosemary Bread. I completely followed this recipe (including the roasted garlic, of course), and it turned out perfectly. It is a very time-intensive recipe but it was so worth it. Honestly, this is some of the best bread I’ve ever had and it worked really well with the other flavors in the dish. (Just a warning though: For those of us who are not regular bread makers and do not have biga just lying around, this recipe will take two full days to make).

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For the soup portion, I wanted to do a tomato and bacon bisque but I  had no idea where to start as I had never made one before. I used this recipe as an initial guide: Roasted Tomato and Smoked Bacon Bisque, but I changed and added enough components to make my own recipe.

The first thing I did was roast the tomatoes. I cut 5 pounds of roma tomatoes in half and removed the seeds from the center with a table spoon. Then, I sliced 2 shallots and minced 5 cloves of garlic. I tossed all of this in some olive oil in a large baking dish and put it into a 400 degree oven for 15 minutes (before and after roasting pictures are shown below). When the tomatoes were cool enough to touch, I removed the tomato skins and began my work on the soup.

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When the tomatoes were done, I browned 1 cup of chopped bacon in a large pot. Once finished, I poured off the rendered fat and added 2 tablespoons of olive oil, 2 tablespoons of butter, 1 yellow onion (chopped), 1 shallot (minced), 1 red bell pepper (chopped), 8-10 cloves of whole roasted garlic (which I roasted previously while making the bread), 2 large carrots (chopped), and 2-3 stalks of celery (chopped) to the pot. I seasoned this with salt, white pepper and black pepper and cooked this all together until the vegetables were tender.

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I then added the roasted tomatoes (without skins), shallots and garlic to the pot with 3 1/2 cups of chicken stock and 1 cup of white wine. I seasoned this mixture with 5 leaves of fresh basil (finely chopped), 1 bay leaf, 1/2 of a tablespoon of dried oregano, 1/2 of a tablespoon of dried thyme, 1 teaspoon of paprika, and some additional salt and pepper. I let this cook together for 20 minutes, stirring frequently. Then, I added in a half pint of heavy cream and allowed this to simmer for 10-15 more minutes.

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Finally, I pureed the soup in a couple batches with a blender. I put the pureed soup back into the pot without straining it because I wanted a thicker soup. If you prefer a thinner soup though, I would recommend taking this step. I brought the soup back up to a simmer to ensure that it was still heated through (and to keep it warm while I was doing the grilled cheese), and then garnished it with a yellow cherry tomato (cut in half), a couple thin strips of fresh basil, and a few dollops of greek yogurt that I had mixed with some fresh lemon juice. This is completely unnecessary to enjoy the soup, but I did it to give it that “gourmet plating” look (and also to get a good picture).

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With the soup complete, it was time to make the gourmet grilled cheese. I wanted to go with some bold flavors for this component so I decided to create a grilled cheese sandwich with arugula, portobello mushrooms, prosciutto, gruyere and smoked gouda on thick slices of my homemade potato-rosemary-garlic bread. I lightly cooked the thinly sliced portobello mushrooms in some olive oil and then layered the sandwich components as seen below (with gruyere on one side and smoked gouda on the other). I then spread a generous layer of butter on both of the outer sides of the sandwich and grilled it on a hot griddle for a few minutes a side (basically until it was brown and crispy, as shown below).

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I cut the sandwich in half and served it in the soup. All together, this was delicious (and honestly one of my all-time favorites from this blog). The sandwich and the soup were both gourmet versions of the classic and tasted wonderful in their own right. But together, the flavors were magical. Ok… that might be overstating it a bit. But seriously, this was AWESOME! So good, in fact, that as soon as I woke up the next morning, I wanted the leftovers. (For the record, this is great for breakfast too). I certainly think this would have made a splash in the challenge and I definitely recommend trying this out for yourself.

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S2E15 (Mystery Box) – Surf and Turf

Employment Update: Still waiting to hear from a couple opportunities… 

This week’s mystery box contained a surf and turf theme in which contestants were asked to create a dish showcasing beef and seafood with the following ingredients as options to incorporate into their dish: live jumbo shrimp, alaskan king crab, live crawfish, buffalo ribeye, dry-aged porterhouse steak, and short ribs.

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Adrien (Short Ribs and Crab Salad), Jennifer (Risotto with Short Ribs and Crab) and Suzy (Prawn Bisque and Bison) landed in the top 3 but it was Jennifer’s risotto dish that gave her the win and the advantage of getting to pick the dish for the next challenge.

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For this challenge, I immediately decided that I wanted to do some sort of Thai recipe featuring beef and shrimp. After some intense Google-ing, I settled on this recipe as my jumping off point: The Best Thai Coconut Soup. I also enlisted my brother, the Grill-Master, and my mother, the maker of the best shrimp I’ve ever had, for assistance in this culinary venture.

The first thing we did was create a marinade for the porterhouse steak. In a small bowl, we combined 3 tablespoons of soy sauce, 3 tablespoons of rice wine vinegar, 3 tablespoons of peanut oil, 2 tablespoons of fish sauce, 3 cloves of smashed garlic, and some cracked pepper. We put the marinade and steak in a large Ziploc bag and put it in the fridge for almost two hours.

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Then, I cooked the shrimp using my mother’s flawless instructions. I brought a pot of salted water to a boil with a bay leaf in it. I then added 1 pound of frozen shrimp to the water and brought it back up to a foaming boil. (The foaming is the important part and this will take a while). After 1 full minute at the foaming boil, I removed the pot from the stove and drained the shrimp into a colander. Then, I rinsed the shrimp with cold water until the shrimp were cooled down to room temperature, and I let the shrimp stand in the colander until they were completely dry.

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Next, I started on the soup. In a large pot, I cooked 1 tablespoon of olive oil, 2 tablespoons of fresh grated ginger, 1 stalk of lemongrass (minced), and 2 teaspoons of red curry paste for 1-2 minutes, stirring constantly. Then, I added in 4 cups of chicken stock, 3 tablespoons of fish sauce and 1 tablespoon of light brown sugar and let that simmer together for 15-20 minutes.

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Then, I stirred in 3 cans (13.5 ounces each) of coconut milk, 8 ounces of sliced Shitake mushrooms, and a small red bell pepper (thinly sliced) to the broth. I let this all cook together while the rest of the components were finished up.

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My brother grilled the steak for 5 minutes per side, taking it off when it reached 140 degrees. We let it rest for 5 minutes, and then I sliced it into thin strips for serving.

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While he was grilling, I made the jasmine rice. I brought 3 and 1/2 cups of water, 2 tablespoons of olive oil and 1 teaspoon of salt to a boil. Then, I added 2 cups of jasmine rice, stirred and covered, and let simmer for 15 minutes on low heat. When all of the water was absorbed, I removed the rice from the heat and let stand for 5 minutes while covered until we were ready to plate.

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Finally, I took the soup off the heat and stirred in the fully cooked shrimp, 2 tablespoons of fresh lime juice, 1/4 cup of fresh cilantro (chopped), and several healthy pinches of salt (to taste).

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I plated the dish with a spoonful of rice in the middle with the soup surrounding it in the bottom of the bowl. I put three strips of steak over the rice, and garnished with a lime wedge and a cilantro leaf. This dish is definitely the prettiest plate of food I have ever made. It was pretty darn delicious too. The flavors worked together wonderfully, and it was a very filling and unique meal. I definitely think that this dish would have been a contender in this challenge due to its creativity and great taste. And even though it requires some unique ingredients, this is a very simple recipe that I suggest you try for yourself.

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S2E14 (Team) – Sliders

Employment Update: 1 great interview at an awesome company that I am impatiently waiting to hear from, 12 follow-up e-mails, 3 job applications

This week’s team challenge had the contestants cater a children’s party. Each team had to develop a slider and a side dish, without using beef or potatoes, that the children would enjoy. The Red Team made a chicken nugget slider with corn fritters while the Blue Team made a grilled turkey slider with apple sticks and caramel sauce. The Red Team was more collaborative and won the challenge as a result.

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With this challenge, I immediately knew that I wanted to make my own slider buns. My personal favorite sandwich bun of any kind is pretzel bread so it was really a no-brainer to attempt those and build the dish around them. With the bun decided, I thought that the best flavor profile would be to do a lamb burger with gouda, cucumber, pickled red onions and a kalamata olive aioli.

With all of these different components, I had to use a lot of different recipes and enlist some grilling assistance from my brother to create this dish. The first thing I tackled was the pretzel bread slider buns. I used this recipe: Pretzel Slider Buns. The recipe was great and very clear with the step-by-step picture instructions. As a result, the pretzel bread turned out perfectly! The only problem was that the buns kept rising throughout the process and I ended up with regular-size buns instead of slider-size buns. So if you try this recipe, be sure to account for that and make the buns much smaller than what you think will work.

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Next, I made the toppings for the burger. I pickled some red onions using this recipe: Quick Pickled Onions, and I thinly sliced some cucumber. Then, I created the condiment for the burger from a recipe in Stephanie Izard’s AMAZING cookbook Girl in the Kitchen. I straight up stole this recipe so I am just going to retype it all here for those of you that want to try it for yourself:

  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cut the head of garlic in half horizontally and place the two halves on a piece of aluminum foil. Drizzle 1 tablespoon of olive oil over the garlic and then fold up all four sides of the foil, pinching them together to make a pouch around the garlic.
  • Roast the garlic until the cloves are tender and slightly browned, about 40 minutes. Let the garlic cool and then pop the cloves out of the skins.
  • Smash the cloves into a paste and transfer them to a blender. Add 1 egg yolk, 1 tablespoon of lemon juice and 1 tablespoon of Dijon mustard and pulse several times to combine the ingredients.
  • With the blender running, add 1/2 of a cup of blended vegetable oil (half olive oil, half vegetable oil) in a slow steady stream through the lid of the blender. Process until the aioli is think and smooth.
  • Transfer to a small bowl and fold in 1/2 of a cup of chopped pitted kalamata olives. Set aside or refrigerate until ready to use.

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Finally, my brother grilled the lamb burgers. (I figure its a team challenge so its ok). He seasoned them with salt, pepper, and garlic powder. He grilled them for 4 minutes per side and melted the gouda cheese on them before taking them off and letting them rest for a few minutes. Then, I served them on the pretzel buns with both of the toppings and the condiment.

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For my side, I knew I wanted to do tempura green beans. This is one of my favorite things to order when I am out to eat and I was very excited to try to make them by myself. I also used a recipe from Stephanie Izard’s cookbook for this, which is as follows:

  • To make the tempura batter: Whisk together 3/4 of a cup of all-purpose flour, 3/4 of a cup of cornstarch, 1 1/2 teaspoons of coarse salt, and 1/2 of a teaspoon of freshly ground pepper in a large bowl. Add 1 cup of cold soda water, whisking briskly until the batter is just slightly thinner than pancake batter.
  • Heat 1 cup of canola oil to 375 degrees in a wide dutch oven or a large sauté pan with high sides.
  • Using tongs or your fingers, dip the green beans in the tempura batter to coat, and fry them in batches, 10-12 beans at a time depending on the size of the pot.
  • Slowly drop the beans in one at a time, being careful not to overcrowd the oil, which will drop the oil temperature, resulting in a soggy coating.
  • When beans are golden brown, remove fried beans with tongs, transfer them to a paper bowl to drain, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Repeat process in batches.

I served the green beans with Alton Brown’s Soy-Ginger Dipping Sauce. While the dipping sauce was delicious, I was disappointed with my tempura green beans. The fried batter was much too heavy and they cooled down so fast that the texture was even more off-putting. I think I will have to try out a couple different batter recipes until I find one that I really like.

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On the positive side though, everything about the lamb burger was delightful. All of the flavors worked together magnificently and all I wanted to do was eat another one just like it after I was done. I had a lot of fun playing around with some different flavors with this challenge, but I’m not too sure how many kids would have liked it. At the end of the day though, I thoroughly enjoyed it and that’s what really matters.

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S2E13 (Mystery Box) – Scallops

Employment Update: 15 Follow-up e-mails which were all promptly ignored

This week’s mystery box contained some hand-dived scallops along with the unique combination of bananas, papaya, peas, lime, jalapeño, red onion, eggs, a croissant, pecans, cauliflower, parmesan, avocado, corn, cilantro, arugula, cinnamon, pancetta, and brandy.

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The top three consisted of Christian (Scallop Succotash), Adrien (Trio of Scallops) and Ben (Scallops and Bananas). Adrien’s Trio of Scallops won over Ben’s risky combination of scallops and bananas.

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Mystery Box challenges are always my favorite. I really enjoy trying to find creative ways to incorporate as many of the ingredients as possible. And this was no different. I decided to do just a classic seared scallop (by using the incomparable Chrissy Teigen’s Perfect Scallop tutorial as a guide, of course) with a cauliflower-avocado mash and mixed vegetables with pancetta.

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For the avocado and cauliflower mash, I used this recipe as a guide: Garlic Parmesan Avocado Cauliflower Mash. I stuck mostly to the recipe with the seasoning being the main exception. I steamed 4 cloves of garlic along with the cauliflower that I mashed up with it. I also used a decent amount of salt and pepper for flavor and thoroughly mashed the avocado up to give the whole component a nice light green color.

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For the mixed vegetables, I first cooked the peas and corn separately. There were no fresh peas at the store so I had to simply steam the frozen variety in the microwave. But I was able to get fresh corn, which I cut off the cob and boiled for a few minutes in salted water. I then sautéed 1/2 of a jalapeño (finely chopped), 3 cloves of garlic (minced), 1/4 of a red onion (chopped), and 10 cilantro leaves (finely chopped) in some olive oil, butter, and the juice of a lime. I wanted to put the pancetta into the mix at this time, but I forgot until later in the process because I was distracted but the numerous other components that were going on at the same time. But if you are doing this yourself, definitely put the pancetta in now. I cooked this together for a few minutes until the onions were translucent and then added in the corn and peas with some salt and pepper. This all cooked together for several minutes until the rest of the components were complete.

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I plated the dish with the avocado-cauliflower mash on the bottom, followed by the scallops and topped by the mixed vegetables with pancetta. Each component tasted good but I was disappointed with several things. First, I was only able to get frozen scallops, and as much as I tried, I could not for the life of me get them dry enough. They did not sear very well as a result. Also, since I forgot the pancetta until the end, it did not give a lot of flavor to the vegetables and did not get crispy the way I wanted. I think this dish has the potential to be very good but I executed poorly and didn’t have that great of ingredients. This is a fairly healthy and nice dish. I will definitely try this again but I will need to get more high-quality ingredients to make it worth it.

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S2E12 (Team) – Three-Course Menu

Employment Update: 10 Follow-Up E-mails, Way too much waiting to hear back form interviews…

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This week’s team challenge had the Red Team (led by Giusseppe) and the Blue Team (led by Tracy) conceptualize and create a three-course meal (an appetizer, an entree and a dessert) to impress the judges’ mothers. Each team captain was given two minutes to determine the mothers’ likes and dislikes to help guide their teams. From what they showed on the episode, here is the information that the chefs were given:

  • Joe’s Mom loves fish and vegetables
  • Gordon’s Mom does not like Sea Bass or Tuna
  • Gordon’s Mom and Joe’s Mom love fresh pasta (Graham’s Mom says it’s just “fine”)
  • Joe’s Mom loves fruit tarts (Gordon’s Mom does not)

I’m sure the mothers gave more direction than that but that was all the producers decided to show the viewer. The Red Team served a Mixed Green Salad with Crispy Polenta, Spaghetti Carbonara, and Apple Pie.

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The Blue Team served Carrot Ginger Soup, Pan Seared Turbot with Caramelized Fennel, and Poached Pear with Mascarpone.

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Even though the Blue Team took a risk serving the fish, they served the best entree and dessert and won the overall challenge. This sent the Red Team into the pressure test.

Since the instructions for the challenge were so vague, I decided to just try out some recipes for the appetizer and dessert portions, and use the entree portion to incorporate the mothers’ likes and dislikes. The menu I decided on was as follows:

  • Brussel Sprout, Pomegranate, Avocado and Orange Salad
  • Lamb with Kale and Butternut Squash Pasta in a Garlic, White Wine Butter Sauce
  • Beignets with Raspberry and Chocolate Dipping Sauces

Appetizer

The brussel sprout salad idea came from this recipe: Brussel Sprout Pomegranate Citrus Salad. It was a decent amount of prep work (this tutorial helped with the pomegranate though) but the result was great. It was really fresh and light, but you have to like the texture of pomegranate seeds to enjoy the dish.

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Entree

For the entree, I knew that I wanted to do a fresh pasta since that was one of the few things all of the mothers seemed to like. (And I have a pretty decent recipe that I have used before on this blog). I found some nice kale and butternut squash at the store so I thought that I could incorporate that into a really nice dish. The first thing I did was roast the squash using this recipe: Simple Roasted Butternut Squash. I let it cool and then cut it into cubes. Then, I prepped the kale (using this as a tutorial since I’d never worked with it before).

Next, I started to prepare the sauce. I put 6 tablespoons of butter, 4 cloves of garlic (minced) and 1/4 of a yellow onion (finely chopped) into a pan, cooking it until the onions were translucent. I then added 3/4 of a cup of white wine, 1 tablespoon of sage, 1/2 a tablespoon of thyme, salt and pepper to taste, and a splash of half-and-half. I let that all cook together for a few minutes and then added the kale into the sauce. I covered this and let it cook for a few minutes until the kale cooked down. I then added in the butternut squash and pasta (once it was cooked through in boiling water), and let that cook together for a few minutes until the lamb was done.

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For the lamb, I simply followed this recipe: Basic Sear-Roasted Lamb Loin Chops. Overall, this dish worked really well. The pasta got a little overcooked and the kale was still a little chewy, but the flavors were great. The lamb was cooked perfectly and all the components tasted great together. I would definitely do this again, but I’d cook the kale before adding it into the sauce and I’d make the noodles thicker or boil them less.

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Dessert

For dessert, I decided that I wanted to try and make beignets using this recipe: French Quarter Beignets. I followed the recipe completely and made Chocolate and Raspberry Dipping Sauces to go with them. I pretty much followed all of the recipes, with a couple exceptions. We experimented with the sugars that coated the beignets, ultimately coming up with 4 different variations: powdered sugar, granulated sugar, plain, and brown sugar with cinnamon. I also didn’t have enough raspberries for the sauce so I supplemented with blueberries and pomegranate seeds. I also used lemon juice instead of orange juice, which was great because it definitely added some more tang to the sauce.

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Overall, the beignets turned out great. My favorite was definitely the granulated sugar with the raspberry-blueberry-pomegranate dipping sauce, but they were all very tasty. The only thing was that the recipe made SO MANY beignets. We decided to freeze about half of them, and according to this recipe, they can be reheated by simply putting them into a 350 degree oven for 10 minutes. I have no idea how they will work out but I’ll definitely let you all know.

Also, as a bonus recipe, I recently tried my hand at these: Homemade Fig Newtons. They turned out great but the dough is VERY difficult to work with. While the results are great (I mean seriously delicious!), the hassle is probably not really worth it. 

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Note: The Pressure Test challenge that followed this Team challenge was a repeat test: the chefs were asked to make a perfect eggs benedict in 30 minutes. Giuseppe, Derrick and Alejandra were the chefs that had to compete in this challenge, and Giuseppe was ultimately sent home for plating severely undercooked eggs. I do not repeat challenges on this blog but here is my attempt from Season 1: S1E12 – Semi-Final 2.